Are Physical Imbalances Affecting Your Child’s Brain and Behavior?

child's brain and behavior

Underlying physiological imbalances are commonly overlooked causes of children’s behavior and developmental problems. These imbalances can sometimes be complex and difficult to detect and can certainly affect your child’s brain development and behavior – in both subtle and serious ways.

If your child is experiencing attention deficit, anxiety, angry outbursts, aggression, depression, or serious behavior issues, take heart – your child can recover!

The following information might seem a bit overwhelming. Just know that you can take it one step at a time. Most importantly, you need to know that healing does happen. Many kids regain their health and their mental/emotional states without the use of drugs.

Each child is unique, and you’ll need to put on your detective cap and look for clues and triggers to determine what might be going on with your child. It’s important to follow your instincts and to get help from a qualified practitioner who understands how to detect and work with these imbalances.

Here are some of the issues to consider:

  • intestinal (gut) dysbiosis and gastrointestinal disorders
  • neurotransmitter imbalances
  • metal and chemical toxicity
  • impaired detoxification
  • nutritional deficiencies and imbalances
  • allergies and immune dysfunction
  • food reactions and sensitivities

Intestinal Dysbiosis

Intestinal or gut dysbiosis is an imbalance where there are not enough good bugs and the bad ones can take over. The good bugs play a significant role in the production and metabolism of neurotransmitters. Optimizing your child’s gut flora is the most important thing you can do and the first step in resolving health and your child’s brain and behavior issues.

Read how to Optimize Your Child’s Gut Flora

Neurotransmitter Imbalances

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells and other cells of the body. They work constantly to keep our brains and body functioning well. When neurotransmitters are out of balance and not working correctly, depression, attention deficit, anxiety, aggression, and a variety of behavior disorders can occur.

The nutritional precursors to neurotransmitters originate in the gut, so it’s essential that your child has balanced, healthy flora in the intestines.

Serotonin imbalances are common in children. Whether your child has too high or too low levels, it can affect mood and behavior. Serotonin regulates and stabilizes mood, impulse control, reasoning, anxiety, sleep, and appetite. Increasing the good microbes in the gut is critical in balancing serotonin levels.

Dopamine and norepinephrine are other important neurotransmitters. Too much dopamine can cause intense anxiety, inappropriate thinking, and even psychosis. Too little dopamine can look like lack of motivation. Too much norepinephrine can cause manic episodes.

Other neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, can cause excitotoxicity. An excess of excitatory neurotransmitters can cause angry, aggressive behavior, mood swings, hyperactivity, insomnia, tics or even seizures.

These are just some of the neurotransmitter imbalances that are possible. You can have your child tested to find out if they have an imbalance affecting brain and behavior. But the most important thing you can do is to take steps to get the gut back into balance.


Everyone living in this world is exposed to numerous toxins every day. There is no escaping exposure, but you can certainly reduce your child’s exposure to the most harmful substances.

The body has significant detoxing capability, but some kids have a difficult time detoxing due to specific genetic impairments. When toxins accumulate in the brain and body, and your child is near or past their tipping point, this toxicity can result in health issues as well as mood, brain and behavior disorders.

The first thing to do is to detox your child’s home environment so that your home is a safe haven from the most harmful chemicals in common products and household furnishings. The most important room in the house to focus on first is where your child sleeps.

It’s also critical that your child’s food is organic – free from pesticides, herbicides and GMOs. Only about 5% – 10% of the food in typical grocery stores is clean. The good news is that the prices of organic food are lower now than ever before and in some cases becoming more affordable than conventional.

Metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum, and arsenic are the most concerning. These are toxins that are known to cause significant issues, even at low levels of exposure. They can cause imbalances in neurotransmitter functioning and will affect behavior and mood. In addition, most of the heavy metals are free radicals that can cause oxidative stress, which also affects mood and behavior.

It’s important to determine and eliminate ongoing exposures. Exposures that are sometimes overlooked are vaccines and amalgam tooth fillings. Many vaccines have aluminum, and the multi-dose flu vaccines contain mercury. Amalgam (silver) fillings contain mercury, and normal chewing can release mercury vapor into the body.

You can have your child tested for levels of metals, pesticides and other toxins.

Detoxing Your Child

In detoxing heavy metals, it’s important to have a knowledgeable doctor experienced in working with children in detoxification.

Here are some of the reasons why kids might have a difficult time detoxing:

  • gut dysbiosis
  • methylation and/or sulfation impairments
  • depleted nutrients required to support detox pathways

Methylation and sulfation are biochemical processes that manage important functions of the body. Both must work properly, and if there are genetic mutations that affect these processes, it will affect the body’s ability to detox.

This might seem alarming, but there is good news! We inherit our genes, but nutrition and environment can change the way our genes express. If mutations are discovered through genetic testing, there are specific nutritional supplements that can enhance your child’s detoxification pathways.

Learn more about Detoxing your Kids

Nutritional Deficiencies or Nutrient Overloads

A developing brain and body needs nutrients to thrive. Your child needs key nutrients for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, for antioxidant protection against toxic metals and chemicals, for gene regulation, and for many other processes in the body and brain.

If there is a deficiency or an overload of any nutrient required for neurotransmitter activity, there can be behavioral issues. The good news is that normalizing nutrient levels can make a huge difference. Nutrient therapy can correct neurotransmitter imbalances and normalize brain chemistry without the side effects of drugs.

Each child has unique biochemistry and diverse nutritional needs. It can take some detective work to determine what’s going on with your child, but it can be completely amazing how quickly behavior can change when pinpointing the imbalances and making some changes in diet and supplementation.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Emotional meltdowns can be caused, in part, by nutritional deficiencies. Your child can be deficient in any nutrient, even if they eat a healthy whole foods diet and take supplements. Some deficiencies can be minor and not significantly affect the way a person functions, but other deficiencies can lead to mental illness.

The term Nutrition Deficit Disorder (NDD) is beginning to be used by doctors. These are the main signs of NDD:

  • Regular mood swings
  • Persistent temper tantrums
  • Restless sleep
  • Poor attention span
  • Impulsive outbursts or behavioral issues
  • Diagnosed or labeled with a “D”: ADD, ADHD, BPD, OCD, etc.
  • Trouble learning
  • Hyperactivity
  • Frequent infections
  • Dry, flaky, bumpy skin
  • intestinal problems (reflux, abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Vision problems
  • Frequent allergies
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Brittle, thin nails
  • Very pale skin, especially on the earlobes

Here are some of the reasons for nutrient deficiencies:

  • Gut dysbiosis
  • Poor nutrient absorption
  • Picky eater
  • Genetics
  • Depleted soils and poor nutrients in the food
  • Exposure to heavy metals depletes nutrients
  • Stress depletes nutrients
  • Some medications deplete nutrients

When certain missing or low levels of nutrients are provided from diet or supplementation, it can have a powerful impact on your child’s mental, emotional health and behavior.

Nutrient Overloads

What might be surprising is that, sometimes, nutrient overloads can cause bigger issues than deficiencies. This is why some people get worse when taking certain supplements. You need to be careful about using vitamins, minerals, and amino acids without first knowing what’s going on with your child’s biochemistry.

If you have a child with extensive challenges, it’s best to do regular lab testing for nutrient levels, heavy metals, and organic acids. And work with a doctor or professional who understands all the underlying issues. The wrong supplements may make existing issues worse or can create new problems.

Be careful with following general protocols that say kids with “this” diagnosis should take “this” amount of “this” supplement. It’s best to know specifically what your child is deficient in or what is in excess and work with a qualified practitioner to normalize the levels.

A word about medications – nutrient therapy, detoxing, diet, etc. can be used in conjunction with prescription medications, if that’s what you are choosing. The medications may eventually be reduced or phased out altogether as the biochemistry is balanced. Don’t stop or reduce medication without consulting your child’s doctor.  Remember to tell all the doctors on your team about all of the medications and supplements you are using.

What Your Child Eats

You can make a huge difference with food! There are a lot of biochemicals in food, such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, that affect your child’s health, mood and behavior. There’s a synergistic process that happens with nutrients to produce the right amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. Changing the diet is actually the place to start. Some behavior issues can change dramatically after changing the diet. See my food ebook for general food recommendations.

Food Reactions and Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can cause frequent temper tantrums and other negative behaviors. It’s possible that your child has hidden food sensitivities that can be related to many symptoms of health and behavior. Detecting and removing these foods from your child’s diet can profoundly impact the intensity and frequency of symptoms.

If your child is not obviously allergic, it can be difficult to pinpoint what your child is sensitive to because symptoms are often delayed. Unlike the obvious and immediate reaction you usually get with an allergy, food sensitivity reactions are delayed and can be more mild.

In addition to behavior issues, what are other signs of food sensitivities?

  • Red cheeks/ears after eating
  • Dark circles or bags around the eyes
  • Chronic runny nose or cough
  • Dry scaly skin or eczema
  • Constipation or digestive issues

Which foods are most likely to be associated with behavior? Almost any food can be a trigger – even foods that are considered healthy, like apples and grapes.

Is your child a picky eater? This can stem from biochemical imbalances. Some kids will only eat white foods – mainly wheat and dairy foods. It might be surprising that the gluten (from wheat) and casein (from dairy) in these foods can create opiate-like addictions.

If your child craves or eats a certain food frequently, try eliminating that food, since kids can crave the foods they are sensitive to. You might want to consider an elimination diet. This entails temporarily removing suspected foods and then adding them back one at a time to find the foods that are tolerated and the foods that need to be avoided.

Eliminating these foods might be a good place to start.

  • Wheat and other foods containing gluten
  • Milk and all Dairy
  • Soy

As I mentioned above, this all seems like a lot to deal with! Remember, you can take it one step at a time. Also keep reminding yourself, this is temporary. With an elimination diet you can find out what might be triggering your child, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will never be able eat these foods. After detoxing, nutrient therapy, and other healing interventions, the underlying imbalances can be resolved and your child should be able to eat most healthy foods.

Addressing underlying physical imbalances can make a big difference if your child is experiencing serious behavior or developmental issues.

Do you have a child with ADHD, behavior or development problems?

I’d love to talk with you. I want to hear what it’s like for you and if I can help make it easier for you.

Schedule a free call

Jane Sheppard CPC FMCHC
Certified Parenting Coach
Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach

About Jane

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